Let’s get this out of the way: You aren’t getting a bottle of Pappy Van Winkle for you or as a gift for anyone this year . Honestly, it’s not worth trying. The supply for Pappy’s is so limited and the demand so great that getting a bottle is akin to finding a golden ticket in a Wonka Bar (not to mention the fact that people are actually stealing it). The good news is, it doesn’t matter. Pappy’s is good whiskey, but it’s hardly the end all, be all of whiskey. It’s just quite popular and almost anyone looking for ‘premium bourbon’ seems to have it on their wish list. Cross that Pappy’s off your list and add these four unique whiskeys which all are fantastic and make great holiday gifts:
Blanton’s Single Barrel Bourbon (46.5% ABV / 93 Proof, $50) – In 1984, Buffalo Trace Distiller Elmer T. Lee made history by releasing the first Single Barrel Bourbon. Lee named this whiskey after distillery president Col. Albert B. Blanton, and intended it to represent the very best whiskey that Buffalo Trace had to offer. The process for selecting Blanton’s barrels hasn’t really changed since its launch, and the barrels still are individually picked from Buffalo Trace’s “H” warehouse, considered by many as one of their best. In addition to paying tribute to the distillery’s legendary president, Blanton’s also celebrates the horse racing culture which surrounds the distillery, with Keeneland Race Track close by in Lexington, KY. Each bottle of Blanton’s is hand filled, labeled, and sealed (in a painstaking and labor intensive process) with one of 7 unique metal horse sculptures, which when assembled together spell out B-L-A-N-T-O-N-S. Although there’s no age statement on Blanton’s, it bears all the hallmarks of a whisky in the 7-9 year old range.
Each barrel of Blanton’s is unique (ours was Barrel 267 from Rick No. 6) but the general style is fairly consistent. Blanton’s nose is robust with oak and cinnamon as the predominant aromas, but the nose is also nicely balanced with caramel, vanilla, and a really nice cherry note. The entry for Blanton’s is extremely affable with nice flavor and terrific mouthfeel. The oak and cinnamon spice from the nose are there but they are well balanced with a delicious buttery caramel note. Strong cinnamon helps define the midpalate which is spicy without being fiery. The finish is medium long with oak, cinnamon, caramel, and cherry lingering on the palate. Buffalo Trace is also the producer of Pappy Van Winkle, and while this is a very different whiskey from that, it’s a much more easy drinking and affable spirit. Proofed perfectly at 93, Blanton’s delivers a nice range of classic bourbon flavors in a way that’s easy to enjoy neat. Put all this is a package that’s extremely gift-worthy and you have one of the best American Whiskey gifts for the holidays.
George Dickel Barrel Select (43% ABV / 86 Proof, $45.99) - One of the things that’s important when buying someone a holiday gift is to give them something that they are going to actually drink and enjoy. Many of the higher end whiskeys are monsters with proofs and flavors that just aren’t pleasing to the average, everyday drinker. George Dickel Barrel Select is a perfect middle ground, a premium whiskey that has a ton of flavor delivered in a way that’s much more approachable than many high end whiskeys. George Dickel uses the same signature sugar maple charcoal filtering that all Tennessee whiskeys must use before aging, but somehow seems to maintain much more of its character and flavor than its Tennessee brother Jack Daniels. George Dickel Barrel Select has no age statement, but it contains whiskey aged 10-12 years. Each bottle comes from a group of barrels personally selected from George Dickel distiller John Lunn.
The nose on George Dickel Barrel Select is oak forward, much more than any other Tennessee whiskey we’ve tried. The oak here has a nice smoky char quality to it, which could be a reflection of both the barrel it was aged in and the sugar maple charcoal that it was filtered through. Underneath the spicy, smoky oak is soft, light vanilla as well as a slightly nutty undertone. The entry is a lot less spicy than the nose would suggest, with a lush and round mouthfeel. Thick vanilla and caramel balance the spicy wood tones perfectly. The oak spice does increase in the midpalate where it’s met with clove and black pepper. The finish is medium length with a lot of the flavor of the midpalate leading to a pleasantly dry and fairly clean conclusion.
George Dickel Barrel Select does a great job of maintaing balance. The soft, sweet tones of the entry and lush mouthfeel are well counterbalanced by the oak space with a finish that really completes the journey from soft and sweet to spicy and dry. George Dickel Barrel Select takes everything that we love about Tennessee whiskey and delivers it in a way that will impress even the category’s harshest critics. It’s great whiskey and a perfect holiday gift.
John E. Fitzgerald “Larceny” Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey (46% ABV / 92 Proof, $33.99) - Larceny comes from the folks over at Heaven Hill, makers of the popular Evan Williams Bourbon as well as some of our favorite premium bourbon with the Parker’s Heritage Collection. Larceny is a wheated bourbon, which means instead of rye, the second major grain in the mashbill after corn is wheat. Larceny is blended from barrels aged six to twelve years pulled from floors 4-6 of Heaven Hill’s rick houses (which are considered prime floors). Like Maker’s Mark, which is also a wheated bourbon, Larceny is an extremely affable whiskey, one that’s ideal to give to someone who has just begun or is about to begin their exploration of American whiskey.
From the first whiff of the nose it’s clear that Larceny is a mellow and easygoing whiskey. Brown sugar, caramel, oak, light wheat grain, and cinnamon intermingle in a nose that’s nothing short of pleasant. Larceny’s nose is all about rounded edges and there are no sharp or biting notes in the nose. The entry follows on the nose almost exactly with the sweet elements perfectly tied in to the spicy. The mouth feel on Larceny is equally as delightful, soft and round without being overly lush or oily. The flavors are fairly consistent throughout without making much of a shift as they move through the midpalate and finish. The finish is slightly spicier and drier than the entry but not by much. One of the things we love about Larceny is how the oak notes act as an aromatic when you drink it, almost the way that bitters function in an Old Fashioned.
Larceny is simply one of the most easy going and affable whiskeys we’ve had. There’s no need to add water or ice, or mix it in a cocktail – Larceny is ideal right out of the bottle. While we love strong flavors in whiskey and whiskeys that take us on a journey, there’s something to be said for a whiskey that’s just plain enjoyable, and it’s hard to think of one more easy going, flavorful, and enjoyable in this class of spirit than Larceny.
Johnny Drum Private Stock (50.5% ABV / 101 Proof, $33.99) – Johnny Drum is the kind of whiskey we reluctantly put on a gift guide, not because it isn’t good (it’s quite good), but it’s one of the best kept secrets in the bourbon space, and we hate to be the ones spilling the beans on it. The label for Johnny Drum states that it’s from the “Johnny Drum Distilling Company in Bardstown, Nelson County, Kentucky”. Johnny Drum Distilling is a nom de plume of sorts for the Kentucky Bourbon Distillers, who are also responsible for such great whiskeys as Rowan’s Creek, Noah’s Mill, and Old Bardstown. The KBD (which they are affectionally referred to) go by another quite famous name: Willett, makers of some of the best whiskey on the planet. The upside to this little shell game is a whiskey priced under $35 that stands shoulder to shoulder with whiskeys double or triple the price.
Johnny Drum Private Stock has a fantastic nose with caramel, cinnamon, marzipan, and light oak spice. The entry is exquisite with a mouth feel that’s full and round. From the get-go Johnny Drum has a tremendous amount of flavor with strong caramel, peanut, and cinnamon. The flavor integration in Johnny Drum is really quite extraordinary, with the cinnamon notes literally wrapped in the caramel notes. It’s a level of complexity and flavor that few whiskeys in this class can match. In the midpalate Johnny Drum does an inversion where the spicy notes become more predominant and the sweet caramel becomes more of an undertone. In addition to cinnamon we get allspice, clove, and oak. The finish is long, spicy, and slightly dry with a lot of flavor and wonderful balance. Although Johnny Drum is 50.5% alcohol/ 101 proof, you’d never guess it, as it’s eminently drinkable neat without ever being too fiery or strong.
Johnny Drum Private Stock may not be a whiskey you’ve heard of, but it’s one of the best spirits you can give this holiday season. We recommend you pick a bottle up for yourself as well – once the word is really out on it, we expect it’ll become much harder to find, especially at this price.
Looking for more holiday gift ideas? Check out Holiday Spirits Gift GuidesGift Guide: Great American Whiskey by Geoff Kleinman